A walk in the woods. A trek in the hills. A gnarly ridge traverse that leads to an airy summit. Short or long, easy or hard — or even dangerous — the venerable hike is as old as humanity itself.
We’re one of those rare creatures that get around solely on two feet, and there is no more reliable form of transportation that putting one foot in front of the other. Whether it’s a familiar path on easy ground or something more adventurous, hiking can be just about anything.
I’ve been a hiker for awhile now. As a kid, I hiked to places where I liked to fish. I tromped through the woods to see what was there. And into adulthood, hiking has taken me to destinations I’d never have seen in a car, on a bike, or on TV. If you’ve got an explorer’s heart, you should be hiking.
For me, there are lots of reasons why I hike. Here are five of them…
Because it’s good for my body. Hiking up and down hills and miles through woods is exercise. Yes, it’s not like doing sprints at the track or cranking out as many reps as you can at the gym. But a well-paced walk through natural terrain works your legs, back and core. Throw on a backpack and the “workout” becomes even more demanding. And if you’re doing it on steep inclines or higher elevations, it’ll beat you down nicely. A good day of hiking, repeated often, will get you in shape.
Because it’s good for my mind. I spend enough time in a chair, at my desk, staring at a computer screen. And even more lounging around watching sports or the latest episode of “Game of Thrones.” Taking in all the messages, tweets, videos, memes and other bits of bytes on social media is akin to drinking through a digital fire hose. Our minds are under constant assault from work stress, manufactured images and artificial blatherscythe. A walk amongst the trees or over the hills for a few hours does wonders to clear my mind and allows me to really think about the world, or not think at all, if that’s what’s needed. Hiking is a good time to pray. Or just listen. The sights, sounds and smells of the woods are said to have tangible health benefits for your mind. I believe it.
Because of the people I meet. Some of the coolest people I know I’ve met through hiking. These are folks who are easygoing, non-judgmental and curious about the world. Most of the time, they’re smart. Wise. Grounded. The connections you make with hikers are different than those you make at work, at church, or at the bar scene. Maybe it’s because we’re all looking for the same thing, I suppose. In any case, your hiking friends might end up being the best ones you have. And if not, they’ll still be some of the most interesting and enjoyable to be around.
Because I can. Thank God I’m still mobile and can walk. Having that ability is akin to having the hottest sports car you can imagine. You wouldn’t own that car and never drive it, right? That’s how I feel about hiking. If I can get out there and hike a short loop or go backpacking for days, I’m going to do it. My health and mobility is a gift, and to not use it would be a waste. If your choice is to use it or lose it, is that really a choice at all?
Because of the awesome places I see. Like this:
Or any number of incredible forests, burly mountains, scenic vistas or jaw-dropping sunrises. You can live your whole life in the ‘burbs and see the same thing every day, and not much will change, even with the seasons. Or you can lace up your boots, grab a pack and find a trail and see where it leads. We humans crave a little adventure. When you’re talking about hiking, the adventure is ahead of you, one step at a time.
If you’re a hiker, what do you like about it? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.
(And thanks to Noel Johnson and Brady Lee for some of the photos featured here.)